The French nobility, observed Tocqueville in The Ancient Regime and The Revolution, supported many of the writers whose essays and observations ended up threatening “their own rights and even their existence.” Today we see much the same farce repeated, as the world’s richest people line up behind causes that, in the end, could relieve them of their fortunes, if not their heads. In this sense, they could end up serving, in Lenin’s words, as “useful idiots” in their own destruction.
Although they themselves have benefited enormously from the rise of free markets, liberal protection of property rights, and the meritocratic ideal, many among our most well-heeled men and women, even in the United States, have developed a tendency to embrace policies and cultural norms that undermine their own status. This is made worse by their own imperious behavior, graphically revealed in the mortifying college admissions scandal in the United States, where the Hollywood and business elites cheated, bribed, and falsified records to get their own kids into elite colleges.
At the same time, these same people continue to boost their own share of the world’s wealth, as a recent OECD report reveals, largely at the expense of the middle and working class. The embrace of inexorable “globalization”—essentially shifting productive work to developing countries—may appeal to the progressive rich even as it, in the words ofgeographer Christophe Guilluy, “revived the citadels of Medieval France.”
Sometimes the elite policy agenda is justified as part of a “green” agenda that impoverishes the lower and middle classes by expelling basic industries, thereby boosting housing and energy prices. This in turn has set the stage for the kind of peasant rebellions—from Brexit and Trump to the rise of illiberal regimes in eastern Europe as well as the re-emergence of socialism—that threaten their hegemony.
The Gentrification of the Left
In the twentieth century, most business leaders were predictably conservative. Big money aligned with their class allies in the “party of property.” Conservatives in Britain and Canada, Liberals in Australia, Republicans in America, and Gaullists in France all supported—albeit with significant differences—a basic property rights-oriented regime backed by law. Yet, over the last 20 years, the upper classes have adopted environmental and social agendas that are fundamentally at odds with competitive capitalism and the survival of a vibrant middle class.
Today, many traditional left-wing parties are largely financed by the wealthy and supported by the elite classes in Canada and Australia. Large sections of traditionally conservative parties like Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, meanwhile, have evolved to embrace the internationalist and green agenda. Only in Britain, ever the eccentric laggard, has old-style class warfare been revived by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
In the United States, a clear majority of wealthy donors now support the Democratic Party rather than the traditional corporate party, the Republicans. The vast majority of the ultra-rich foundations—including those funded by the offspring of the Rockefellers and the Fords, whose fortunes were made in fossil fuels—now all tilt to the left, particularly on the environment and cultural issues.
Over the past half century, as was the case in pre-revolutionary France, the elite’s worldview has become increasingly detached from traditional morality. But, while the ruling classes of the industrial era continued to pay lip service to the primacy of the family, many in today’s upper classes have embraced an agenda that has little use for traditional values on anything from sex roles to cultural norms. Increasingly, this is no longer a question of mere tolerance, but an aggressive challenge to the tradition familial culture that once laid the foundation for successful societies.
These pervasive progressive memes are now being adopted by vast corporations. In search of the progressive dollar and appeasement of the Left’s noisy social justice tendency, Gillette has produced ads that attack “toxic masculinity”; similarly culturally PC approaches have been adopted by firms such as Audi, Procter and Gamble, Apple, and Pepsi, with varying degrees of success. Today, employees at Google, Microsoft, and Accenture in Britain are expected to subscribe to the progressive orthodoxy on race and gender; and if they fail to do so, employees fear finding themselves without a job.
When in power, the Left does its best to impose its preferred perspective on the population. Legislatures in seven states, including New York, have passed bills expanding abortion availability into the third trimester. In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis, a tech mogul, is considering legislation to mandate sex education, including information about “healthy” transsexual relationships and bans discussion of gender norms.
The emphasis on cultural issues bestows progressive credibility on ultra-wealthy politicians like Polis or Jay Pritzker, the new Governor of Illinois, or former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. However, it also widens the gap between the upper classes and those that British author David Goodhart calls “the somewheres”—the old middle and working classes who steadfastly identify with the old values of family, locality, nation state, and even religion. In the United States, allowing biological males to use women’s restrooms is rejected by two-thirds or more of the population. It is likely that even fewer agree that raising children according to their biological sex reflects prejudice or bigotry, as some progressives insist.
Finally, there is the explosive issue of immigration, which has helped produce developments like Brexit, the shift to right-wing populism in Europe and, of course, the presidency of Donald Trump. In the tech world, in particular, there is strong support for a “borderless world,” which some see as a way to import cheap skilled labor as well as an endless supply of nannies, gardeners, hotel staff, and cleaners, all of whom are required to maintain the lifestyles of the upper crust.
This piece originally appeared on Quillete. To read the rets of the piece go to Quillete here.
Cross-posted at New Geography